There's a fantastic movie from the 1980's called This is Spinal Tap. It's a comedy (a mockumentary, really) about an aging rock band which is losing relevance. There's a scene in the movie where Nigel Tufnel, the band's guitarist, is showing the narrator his amp. As he shows him the knobs, he points out that the volume knob is marked with a top setting of eleven rather than the standard top setting of ten.
Nigel explains the benefit. "Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?"
The narrator asks, "Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?"
Nigel responds confidently, "These go to eleven!"
My point: Silly example? Sure. But if you want to stick out in the job search, if you want that extra bump, if you want to get noticed, you're going to need to turn your search up to eleven. Go beyond what's expected. Do more. Work harder.
Don't believe me? Here's a real-world example. I was speaking recently with a friend of mine who recruits for a Fortune 20 technology company. She told me that for each job posting, she receives 10,000 applicants.
Let that sink in for a moment.
TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE (that's four zeroes) are competing for the same job you want. Just one job. And, by the way, this company doesn't really advertise the postings, either, so that means people actively went to their website and sought out openings. Do the math:
• Even if you meet all the qualifications...
• Even if you are performing the exact same duties in your current job...
• Even if you're in the top five percent of all applicants...
...you're still just one in 500 applicants.
I hate to depress you, but job hunting is really hard. And it's only getting harder. Employers have erected even more obstacles between job hunters and jobs, in the form of systems and controls.
Think about it - how many times have you been instructed to apply online? Employers direct job seekers to apply on their website – before receiving any consideration – under any variety of circumstances including:
•When responding to an online job posting
•When calling the company
•When stopping by the front desk
•When meeting a recruiter at a job fair
•When getting introduced to a company employee at a trade show
Get the picture? Employers want you to apply online before speaking to you. There are several reasons for this, but here's the big one:
It's easier for the company. Talking to job seekers takes time. Collecting and scanning resumes takes time. Entering a job seeker's information into the system takes time. When you apply online, you're getting yourself into the system and the employer is able to move on to other duties. And if you're a recruiter who wants to quickly review resumes, having everybody's resume in one place simplifies the search.
There are other reasons, of course – tracking, governance, document control, process management, reporting, and so on. In any event, the employer wants you to do what's easiest for them.
My point is this. Most job seekers simply post their resume online to a company's job posting – and pray they get noticed. And then they get frustrated and annoyed with the process when they never hear from any employers.
I get these job seekers' frustration – I truly do. The application process is demoralizing, annoying, painful, and quite often ineffective for the job seeker. The numbers alone will work against you.
The Bottom Line: What you're doing simply isn't enough.
Being a job seeker today means stepping outside your comfort zone to get noticed. You have to go into the job search with a strategy other than "Post and Pray," because that's probably not going to work.
Individuals getting calls from potential employers generally work harder to make sure that they get that they do. If you want to compete, you need to take your job hunt to the next level. I'm not suggesting that you make job hunting a full-time job, but here are some activities which can pay big dividends.
1. Make your resume align with the job description. Employers' Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS's - the databases they use to store resumes and post jobs) rank resumes according to how closely they match the job description. That way, the recruiter gets to look at the resumes which score the highest first, as opposed to going through resumes alphabetically or in order received. In other words, if your resume is a 90% match against the job description, you've got a higher chance of getting a glance. Look for the employers' keywords, terminology, and requirements, and make sure you're tweaking your resume to include these. And include a title on the resume matching the job's title.
2. Make your resume appealing to people, too. It doesn't matter how great your skills or accomplishments on your resume are if they don't align to the position posted. Don't count on the recruiter wanting to read your resume or submit it to the hiring manager if it's clear that you posted for another job and used the same resume for this one. The title of the job you're posting for should be front and center on the resume, the resume skills and accomplishments should align with the career direction, and make sure the resume is well formatted, easy to read, and pops. Interesting is important.
3. Check for jobs on all the boards that matter. You can't always know where a company's going to decide to post an opening. That dream job could be posted on Monster, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, Indeed, SimplyHired, Recruiter.com, Dice, ZipRecruiter, Glassdoor, or even directly on a company's website. Set a routine to check these sites. Build a rotation. Set up alerts that notify you when a job that meets your criteria gets posted. And apply quickly - it's easier to get noticed with less competition.
4. Go around the system, find a stakeholder, and sell yourself. That's the beauty of LinkedIn - after you've applied online, you can find somebody at the company who cares that you applied (preferably a hiring manager) and you can message them through the system to express your interest. A manager in need may take your note seriously and ask human resources for your resume.
By the way: I'm often asked if it's worth paying for a LinkedIn premium subscription. The answer is, unequivocally, YES! If you're searching for a job, you can leverage the increased functionality that the premium access gives you. Namely, you have the ability to do in-depth searches across the system AND you can send a limited number of direct messages (InMails) to people you're not connected to. This access, combined with a well-timed note, may turn the tide in your favor.
5. Nurture your network. Keep in touch with past managers and coworkers, and get out there and meet new people - often. People refer people they like for jobs. It's that simple. During the course of my career, several doors were opened for me based upon who I knew. I obtained multiple interviews and several job offers because of my existing network. If you're looking for a job, tell your network - they may be willing to put you forward for a job. Go to professional organization meetings. Ask for informational interviews. Attend local college alumni events. Hit those department reunions. Invite your old boss out to lunch (and offer to pay). And this works both ways, by the way - people will remember (and likely repay the favor) if you were generous in putting them forward for a job.
6. Polish up your LinkedIn profile. Employers and recruiters are actively combing LinkedIn to find passive job seekers. An effective profile will help sell you and maybe get you noticed for a job you hadn't considered. And people in your network on LinkedIn may refer you if they like what they see.
7. Get your interviewing skills up to standard. Be ready for behavioral interviews. Display a lot of energy. Get a nice suit. Prepare for the salary question. And treat that initial phone screen by an employer as a real interview - because it is. Send thank you notes to everybody.
8. Remember – There's always somebody out there willing to work a little bit harder at this than you are. Proceed accordingly, and crank your job search up to 11.